Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part story about the experiences one Craig resident had while caring for her cancer-stricken mother as a teenager and young adult living in New Jersey. To read the first part of the story, click here
At only 15-years-old, Kia Fisher learned her mother, Janice Fisher, had breast cancer.
As it was just the two of them, Kia took on the role of primary caregiver to her mother, maintaining that role for ten years until Janice lost the fight.
Every step of the way held emotional and physical ups and downs for both Kia and her mother.
Although something she never thought twice about doing, Kia traded in her childhood and young adulthood years to be there for her mom.
Dealing with the Docs
As part of her caregiver role, Kia dealt with matters most adults dread.
Dealing with her mom’s doctors was one of those tasks.
“I wrote everything down," Kia said. "I was like, 'hold on, you said what now? You need to repeat that. I want brochures.' I asked questions.”
Kia said being so involved and asking so many questions helped her tremendously by allowing her to know what was going on with her mom.
“Unless you ask what kinds of medicines are in chemo, they’re usually not going to tell you because they’ve already explained it to the patient," Kia said. "You have to be on your game."
Another aspect of Kias role as caregiver was dealing with lawyers and Janice's after life plans.
“We always had the talks about what would happen if she didn’t come out of surgery, what would happen if she didn’t make it," Kia said. "on that level we were very open. We had to communicate. I had to know what was what.
"I was only 17 so if something happened, who was I to go to? Do I still go to school? do I move? There were so many questions that at 17 I had no idea (about), and I was petrified to lose my mother. My dad wasn’t in the picture, so it was just me and her.”
Kia said she didn’t like having to deal with the will, lawyers, funeral arrangements or being the one to ask her mother if she wanted to be cremated.
“I’m 26-years-old, I shouldn’t be having this conversation with my mother,” Kia said.
2 weeks of Hell
Kia said there came a point when her mother couldn’t take the pain anymore, forcing her to make one of the hardest decisions she’d ever make.
She said putting her mother in hospice meant it was over.
“She knew in a way too, because she said, ‘it’s OK. I can go to hospice,'” Kia said. “We were there for about two weeks. I lived there. I wasn’t going out drinking, partying or hanging out with friends. It just wasn’t, it wasn’t anything I had expected my twenties to be.”
Fisher said she felt helpless during her stay with her mother in hospice, unable to do anything for her mom except sit and talk with her.
“Living in hospice those two weeks was hell," Kia said. "Seeing your parent deteriorate in front of you is pretty gut wrenching.”
At the end, Kia said she told her mother it was time, saying both of them were done and encouraging Janice to let go.
About two days later Janice passed away.
Losing a Best Friend
“She was my best friend, absolutely,” Kia said about Janice. “No matter how sick she was feeling she was there for me. She was always there. And I guess in the big scheme of things that’s what mattered, and why I didn’t care about taking care of her.”
Kia said her dad walked when she was young but her mom didn’t quit.
“She worked two jobs," Kia said. "She wanted me to have the life of a normal two parent home. She wanted me to go to birthday parties and bring a gift.”
Kia said she experienced so many emotions, wavering back and forth between anger and sadness.
“I was mad, but then I was like I shouldn’t be," she said. "I was fighting myself. I was my own worst enemy.”
Kia said after her mother died she lost it.
“I think I was in shock, and really mad," Kia said. "Really, really mad.”
She said she wanted to stay in her home and just be alone.
Myranda Lyons, a nurse for 7 years and director of nursing at Centennial Home Care for the past three, said anger is one of the stages of grief.
"Mad, denial, upset or sad, there are so many different stages, and not everyone goes through them all," Lyons said. "It's completely normal to have those feelings."
Dealing with debt, Janice's car, car insurance and life insurance, among other things, Kia said she didn’t want to commit suicide but wanted to sleep forever and be at peace.
Therapy helped. Kia said if she hadn’t gone she probably wouldn’t have gotten out of the house or talked to anyone.
Although both group and individual therapy sessions were available, Kia said one-on-one was better for her.
“I was able to just yell at her or cry to her without all these people looking at me,” Kia said.
Advice from a caregiver
Although difficult, Kia remembers plenty of good times with her mom.
Laughing, Fisher told the story of when Janice got her implants after having a mastectomy.
“She said, ‘I will never sag. I will always have fabulous boobs,’" Kia said. "Those were definitely good times.”
Kia also remembers Janice making thanksgiving dinner every year, regardless of how bad she felt.
As for advice to other caregivers, Kia said it takes lots and lots of patience, with little room for selfishness. But adding that it’s necessary to make time for yourself.
“If you want time for yourself you need to just say, 'OK, I’m going to spend an hour in the bathroom and guess what, no ones going to bother me,'” Kia said. “As a caregiver, I didn’t take enough time for myself. I know I didn’t.”
Lyons echoed Kia's advice about taking time for yourself as a caregiver.
"It's important for somebody taking on a caregiving role, who hasn't done it before, to find a good support system and to have someone that can relieve you for a couple hours a day to have you time," Lyons said.
Lyons also added that although someone in Kia's position may want to be there every second doing everything for their loved one at the end, they don't have to go it alone.
"There's a lot of help," Lyons said. "Home health and hospice agencies. Once at that point they don't have to take it on all on their own. You can be as involved or not involved as you want. But sometimes it's nice to have that professional buddy system, and someone there you can call on if you have a question to ease worries."
Kia said most of the time she just stayed strong, not wanting Janice to see her weak, afraid if she did her mom would start to fall apart.
"You have to be caring and loving," Lyons said. "(It's) so important for people. When people get older it's hard for them to accept care. They feel like they're losing their independence."
A legacy of awareness
Now 29, Kia has been receiving mammograms every year since she was 25, even though the normal baseline age is 40.
“My family, we’re extremely prone, so we have to go,” Kia said.
Fisher urged others to keep themselves healthy and checked, especially if the visit is covered by insurance.
“If you have any concerns just do it,” Kia said. “Because from my experiences it spreads so quick. And sure 10 years is a long time. But not when it’s your parent. I was going to plan this big birthday party for my mom. But I couldn’t even plan her a 60th birthday party.”
To read the first part of this story, click here
Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org